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Getting sleep when I have another baby

KATE BARBER talks with baby expert and mother of two, MIRIAM MCCALEB, about infants and sleep, and giving yourself permission to do things differently when you have your second or third baby.

Having a new baby is exhausting, and it’s pretty normal to be a little obsessed with everyone in the family getting enough sleep. Before having my first baby ten years ago, I read a book promising that if I followed the principles and routines it laid out for me, my baby would hardly cry and sleep well. When she was born, I followed the routines to the letter. What I can say now is:

  1. She was a calm baby who slept well. To this day, she loves sleeping, so that could just be the person she is. 
  2. I became obsessed with her (and my) sleeping and preempting and fixing ‘problems’ or ‘regressions’. 
  3. My experience with subsequent babies was VERY different. We probably had routines, but they changed all the time. Some time after my second baby, I threw out the book because I couldn’t reconcile the ‘rules’ with my own messy life.  

As Miriam says, whether it’s baby number one or four, it’s really tough. When it’s your second or third baby, you might be juggling preschool drop-offs and extra-curricular activities, not to mention toddler tantrums or toilet training. “It’s important to acknowledge how hard it is while also reminding yourself that this too shall pass.” 

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ROUTINES AND PERMISSION TO DO IT DIFFERENTLY

Miriam says routines are great. “However, they shouldn’t be about the clock but rather the sequence of events – they are all about predictability and consistency for an infant. However, they need to fit your life, and it’s fine to deviate from the routine sometimes.” 

Following the routines you had with your first baby won’t necessarily work the second time around. “You have permission to be different with baby number two and three, and so on, to how you were with baby number one,” says Miriam. “Nobody but you remembers what you were like with your first, so do your best to release that guilt about luxurious naps at 3 pm vs. waking your baby for the school run.”

You have permission to: bedhop, ignore the housework, have a nap and ask for help. Miriam reminds parents: “We are still losing babies to sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) in New Zealand at alarming rates, so if a tiny baby is in a bed with a bigger body, use a Moses basket or a pepi pod or similar.”

Asking for help isn’t easy. Personally, I found it particularly hard admitting I was struggling when I had my third baby. I’d done it twice before; surely I could do this. I wanted people to think I was a shining example of a coping mother when sometimes all I wanted to do was cry and eat chips. 

Miriam encourages mums and mums-to-be, before a big life change like having a baby or going back to work, to make a list of people to call on for help with preschool drop-offs, school pick-ups or anything. And, when the time comes, to call on those people!

As hard as we try, there’s no such thing as the perfect parent, says Miriam. The research uses the term ‘good enough’, and we need to be ok with that. “Do your best to respond moment by moment and to release yourself from any guilt you may have that you’re not sticking to the routines you followed with your first baby. All too often, we are our own harshest critics. Let’s strive to be as gentle and encouraging with ourselves as we would be with our besties.”

Miriam McCaleb is a researcher, writer, teacher and mum of two great girls. She’s excited and frightened to be heading to Dublin in July 2023 to present her work at the World Association for Infant Mental Health Congress. Sometimes she has time for blogging at baby.geek.nz.

SLEEP SCIENCE FACTS

Miriam found it helpful when she had her babies to remind herself of some sleep science facts. Sometimes the things we see as ‘problems’ are actually typical and healthy behaviours, she says.

Miriam reminds parents that:

  1. At birth, your baby’s tummy is no bigger than a toy marble (about 1-2 teaspoons), and by Day 10, it’s the size of a ping-pong ball (about 2 tablespoons). Tiny! So, it’s no wonder s/he is hungry often and will need to feed through the night to feel satisfied.
  2. It can take time to learn those cycles of wake/sleep (day/night). We can help by allowing things to be super chill, quiet and dark at night.
  3. We all naturally cycle through stages of deep and shallow sleep, and most of us awaken in the night even if we don’t become conscious enough to register it. Babies have to learn to link their sleep cycles. 
  4. Time is a made-up construct, and sleep doesn’t happen following the clock. So have a compassionate heart as you navigate the struggles of living in a space-aged world with a stone-aged baby! Remember, babies haven’t changed since the stone age.

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